Volunteers help communities to protect themselves against COVID-19 in Indonesia
The men and women of Muhammadiyah supporting their communities during the pandemic
Caption (above): Endah puts a mask on her daughter Fatima, 3, before leaving their home in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia.
“The joy of being a volunteer is that I feel I’m being useful. From what I know, the best kind of person is a useful one.”
Ramadhana is a volunteer with the Muhammadiyah COVID-19 Command Centre (MCCC) in Bekasi, Indonesia. His work mainly focuses on raising awareness and sharing information at the community level on COVID-19 and how to best prevent its transmission.
To help communities in Indonesia overcome COVID-19, UNICEF is partnering with Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Islamic organization in the country, through the MCCC to mobilize its volunteers to reach residents directly and promote preventive behaviours.
Last Sunday, we followed the volunteers in Bekasi during their community outreach activities. They went to houses and public spaces to hand out flyers and provide information on how to prevent COVID-19 transmission and protect themselves.
“First, we try to find out the level of understanding of COVID-19 in the community. Then we share information on how to minimize transmission by washing hands, physical distancing, staying at home and wearing masks,” Ramadhana explained.
Providing the right information to the right audiences in the right way is crucial to ensure the community can successfully protect itself from COVID-19. Since it is a new virus and no vaccine is available yet, the best way to protect oneself is to adopt a clean and healthy lifestyle.
Public health experts have suggested that people need to be vigilant about washing their hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds, as well as wearing a mask in public, and keeping a physical distance of at least one and half meters from others, but also staying at home.
Although it might sound simple, this involves changing people’s behaviours, which is especially challenging when they don’t have the right information and have no idea where or who should they trust to get guidance.
“I feel the community has not yet understood the danger of COVID and what clean and healthy living actually is,” said Ridha, another volunteer with MCCC. “Even before COVID, we should have been living a clean and healthy life as recommended by our religion.”
Unlike Ramadhan, Ridha doesn’t often visit communities. But she is involved in coordinating dialogues with religious leaders and putting up posters and banners in mosques and public spaces. When we met, her team was about to clean and disinfect two Muhammadiyah-affiliated mosques. The 30-year-old is no stranger to chemicals as she works as a chemist in the Environmental Department at the Water and Air Environment Laboratory.
Ramadhana also has a good understanding of and compassion for public health: During the day, he works as a nurse at the Islam Pondok Kopi Hospital.
“Since the beginning, because my background is in health and I’m a volunteer, I’ve been very interested in educating the community about the coronavirus,” explained Ramadhana. “There is still stigma in the community; there are those who see the coronavirus as a conspiracy theory or a hoax.
Since he joined Muhammadiyah in 2007, he has been involved in many different volunteering activities. He even visited and provided support to Rohingya refugees. But the work is not without risks.
“The biggest challenge is the risk of exposure because I go directly to the community,” he said. “We can’t tell if someone is asymptomatic.”
As a father of six, Ramadhana has to be cautious. Not only does he risk exposure to the virus from his work as a nurse, he also visits different communities each time he volunteers.
"I have six children, and the oldest is in the 4th grade,” he added. “I always try to safeguard our interactions. I make sure to observe the safety protocols when I go home and we interact.” This includes showering and changing his clothes before he sees his family, and wearing protective equipment while working at the hospital and limiting face-to-face interactions with patients.
Despite these risks, Ramadhana and Ridha’s work has already made an impact in their communities and taught residents how they can stay safe in a difficult time.
“I learned how to wash my hands correctly, stay healthy and get enough rest from a Muhammadiyah volunteer,” said Endah, a pregnant mother visited by Muhammadiyah volunteers, as her 3-year-old daughter Fatima sat on her lap. “Preventive behaviours include hand washing, physical distancing, wearing masks and staying at home.”
People like Endah and Fatimah are the reasons why community outreach and awareness raising are crucial. They are vulnerable and can benefit greatly from implementing the right COVID-19 preventive behaviours.